In reproduction, historic California tile has made a delicious comeback.
Back and front iron gates, probably dating to the 1920s, came from a local antiques store. The tile inserts decorating the piers are original Tropico tiles collected by the homeowner, as “unset” units purchased in a box of two dozen.

Back and front iron gates, probably dating to the 1920s, came from a local antiques store. The tile inserts decorating the piers are original Tropico tiles collected by the homeowner, as “unset” units purchased in a box of two dozen.

“The project really sings because of the Spanish-style tile, tile, tile,” says architect Ione Stiegler. “And for that, homeowner Susan Comden gets all of the credit.

“My firm has many vintage catalogs from Southern California tilemakers,” Steigler continues, “as well as books on the subject, so we were familiar with the tiles Susan was looking to re-create. But it was her tenacity on eBay and at antiques stores, finding the historic tiles, which is truly awe-inspiring.” The Spanish Colonial Revival house has some original tile, as well as vintage and reproduction tile added during renovation.

“California” tile, often in stylized patterns inspired by Islamic art, became an almost universal garniture of Mediterranean and Spanish Colonial Revival houses of the period 1915–1930s. Besides Hispano–Moresque designs, stylized floral and aquatic themes—fish, waves—were popular in decorated tiles.

In the more public downstairs bathroom, tile is a stunning reproduction of a Malibu Potteries (1926–1932) design found in the 1929 Adamson House in Malibu.

In the more public downstairs bathroom, tile is a stunning reproduction of a Malibu Potteries (1926–1932) design found in the 1929 Adamson House in Malibu.

“Susan and Len’s project is an homage to California’s rich tradition of tile making,” says architect Stiegler. Illustrious makers included Catalina Pottery and Malibu Potteries, Batchelder tile in Pasadena, California Clay Products, and Gladding McBean.

Vintage tile, when you are able to find it, is usually priced at a premium, especially if you find it unset (still in the box) and in any quantity. That was the case involving a cache of unset Tropico Tile that Susan found at an antiques store in Pasadena.

The tile types available in the 1920s and ’30s have been revived. Today’s offerings include Spanish-influenced California tiles (Malibu and Catalina), textural Batchelder tiles, and hand-painted Talavera tile. Revived techniques—cuenca, cuerda seca, tubeline—are still used by small-batch artisanal studios as well as larger manufacturers.

In the kitchen, antique tiles set into a generic field are Tropico (1920–23) tiles found by the homeowner.

In the kitchen, antique tiles set into a generic field are Tropico (1920–23) tiles found by the homeowner.

CALIFORNIA TILE

California Pottery and Tile Works 
Malibu & Catalina tile traditions 

Fireclay Tile 
California & Moorish designs, glazed thin brick, hand-painted designs

Malibu Ceramic Works 
Malibu/Catalina, Hispano-Moresque, Batchelder-reproduction, subway tile etc. 

Catalina Island Tiles  
Colorful Catalina-style tiles 

Mission Tile West 
Large retailer of handcrafted ceramic & terra-cotta tiles in California/Southwest styles & more  

Native Tile  
California tile for fireplace, floor, kitchen & bath, fountains 

Pasadena Craftsman Tile  
Original & Batchelder-reproduction handcrafted ceramic tiles 

RTK Studios 
California field & trim tiles, decos, murals, etc. for architectural applications 

Tile Restoration Center  
Restoration & custom work; reproductions of Batchelder & Claycraft tiles

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